I love writing the Dear Canada books. A diary lets you do things you can't do in a straight novel. You get to put in things the characters feel but would not admit out loud. You can also include small jokes or silly tangents. And you get to live somebody else's life.
Not only do you get inside another person's life but you get to travel back in time. I am seventy-three but when I am writing Victoria Cope's diary or Marianna's, I become them and live over a hundred years ago. I have to think what people would have thought then - before plastic or TV or Lego or Barbies were invented. People ate different foods and sang different songs and wore different clothes. They studied different subjects in school too. They called them Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. They never heard of Language Arts or Social Studies. They played different games too. I love moving around in a younger Canada than ours for awhile. My grandmother was born in 1867, the year of Confederation, and she told stories about her childhood. They had a "home boy" who lived with them and helped her father in his blacksmith shop. That was where I first heard of the "Barnardo children." I wish Grandma could read Orphan at My Door. She would set me straight on lots of things, but she would be pleased as punch that I wrote about long-ago days.
Even though I had nearly finished writing All Fall Down before I went to Frank, Alberta, I am so glad I went to the actual place. For one thing, I saw Turtle Mountain looming over me. Even though I am almost totally blind, that mountain towered into the wintry sky and gave me the shivers. I had decided that Abby was not going to write about the weather in her diary, but having been almost blown flat on my back by the wind there, I realized that the weather in Frank cannot be ignored. It is dramatic! The sky, too, is twice as big and blue as any Ontario sky. And the people are as warm-hearted as their wind is cold. My sister Pat and I felt so welcome. Abby’s diary took on new life as I visited the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre and spoke with Monica Field and others who belonged next to the mountains and under that enormous sky.
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